Weed spotters protect our native plants and ecosystems

Water hyacinth (Eichhornia crassipes) is a State prohibited weed.

As 2020 is the inaugural International Year of Plant Health, we chat with ‘Weed Spotter’ Tricia Stewart about why protecting plants is vital for our ecosystem.

Tricia amongst the vegetationA love of plants has always been in Tricia Stewart’s blood. It formed the basis for her career, but it’s her knowledge of weeds that’s been crucial in protecting Victoria’s plant health and ecosystem.

As a trained ‘Weed Spotter’ for the Victorian Government, in recent years Tricia has identified and reported three significant infestations of State prohibited weeds –the highest risk category of declared weed in Victoria.

Tricia’s actions have been critical in preventing these infestations establishing and spreading, and in turn has meant native vegetation has been able to survive the threat posed by these highly invasive species.

“As an avid conservationist, my role and my passion is about preserving the whole ecosystem,” Tricia says.

“That ecosystem needs the right healthy flora, to provide for the right healthy fauna.

“When weed species are introduced to a plant community, which has not evolved in unison with them, it throws out the whole balance, and without intervention, that biosphere faces collapse.”

The three weed species found by Tricia: water hyacinth, alligator weed and salvinia – all ‘water weeds’ – had the potential to ruin the local biosphere but were able to be controlled by Agriculture Victoria, the agency responsible for treating and managing infestations of State prohibited weeds.

In her current conservation role as the Natural Areas Team Leader with the Royal Botanic Gardens Victoria site at Cranbourne, Tricia protects native plants and shares her Weed Spotter knowledge and training with her team, as well as with conservation volunteers who work with them.

It all means that more trained eyes are now scouring the countryside looking for weeds that could create enormous damage to the environment and agriculture across Victoria and Australia.

“We need dedicated people who can recognise a weed before it becomes established and before it impacts on diversity.”

“Finding it is the first step in doing something about it and if we didn’t have people who were spotting these small infestations, we would have endless fields of weeds, so we need to put out the spot fires.”

Tricia works on the butterfly effect, hoping that her efforts to raise awareness about the Victorian Government Weed Spotter program and training more people to be alert to weeds will lead to an exponential growth in awareness.

“I received Weed Spotter training at the very beginning of my 15-year career, and since then have recorded three previously unrecorded infestations of State prohibited weeds,” she says.

“I hope to share my experiences and knowledge on declared weeds to do my part in preserving that foundational integrity of plant and plant community health, not just for now, but for the future.”

Weed Spotters program

A Victorian Government initiative, the Weed Spotters program is targeted at people likely to spend time in places where State prohibited weeds could be found. Current Weed Spotters include contractors, consultants, horticulturalists, garden enthusiasts, local government staff, and other agency staff including Parks Victoria, waterway managers and Catchment Management Authorities.

There are a range of training activities and publications available to Weed Spotters to assist them to identify State prohibited weeds including online training. Training includes weed identification, distinguishing characteristics of the target weeds and how to make a State prohibited weed report. Publications include a training manual, cards and a subscription to the Weed Spotter newsletter.

The information gathered by Weed Spotters helps to locate new infestations of State prohibited weeds and assist in their management.

To find out more, visit the Agriculture Victoria website.